Fast Food Giant Wendy’s to Automate its Drive-Through With AI
AI and Data Science Newsposted by ODSC Team May 10, 2023 ODSC Team
Wendy’s, the Ohio-based fast-food chain, has announced plans to deploy AI chatbots in its drive-through service according to The Wall Street Journal. The chatbots will be powered by NLP software developed by Google and trained to understand how customers order off the menu.
The initiative is expected to streamline the ordering process and prevent long lines in the drive-through lanes from turning customers away, according to Todd Penegor, Wendy’s Chief Executive. This is a very similar approach that Chipotle is taking with its own AI research, and he acknowledges that the move “will be very conversational.”
The AI chatbot will be launched in June at a company-owned restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, near its headquarters. Engineers with Wendy’s have been working with Google to build and fine-tune the generative AI application. The model, loaded with words, phrases, and popular expressions in different dialects and accents, is designed to recognize and mimic the syntax and semantics of human speech.
Though some might think that this is a job perfectly suited for AI and that the software should take to it like a duck to water, that isn’t the case. According to Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, the company’s cloud-computing division, he said: “You may think driving by and speaking into a drive-through is an easy problem for AI, but it’s actually one of the hardest.”
Wendy’s customized language model includes unique terms, phrases, and acronyms that customers have come to use when ordering its burgers, fries, and other items. As you’d expect. The AI is also programmed to upsell customers. When it interacts it seeks out opportunities to offer larger sizes, Frosties, or daily specials. After which, once the chatbot takes an order, it appears on a screen for line cooks. From there, prepared meals are relayed to the pickup window and handed off to drivers by a worker.
Though some may fear the rise of AI and its effect on the labor force, CEO Todd Penegor made clear that the company isn’t looking to utilize AI to replace workers. Instead, much like how Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella views AI, it will enhance the worker and provide support. Overall, the Chatbot would be to help workers handle rushes and get more customers through the drive-through overall.
The move makes Wendy’s one of the latest companies to join the growing group of firms using generative AI for growth. Spending in the global generative AI market is expected to reach $42.6 billion by the end of the year, growing at a compound annual rate of 32% to $98.1 billion by 2026, according to market analytics firm PitchBook Data.
According to Kevin Vasconi, Wendy’s Chief Information Officer, test runs in recent months at the Columbus restaurant have been favorable. “It’s at least as good as our best customer service representative, and it’s probably on average better,” Vasconi said, adding that part of the goal of the pilot rollout is to show Wendy’s franchisees that the technology works and can improve service speed and consistency.